(A) Introduction. Read: Luke12v35to48

Many commentators deal with this passage in a very unsatisfactory fashion because they focus on the return of the master and the time of judgment. For some it is about Israel's unreadiness for the Church era and the ensuing judgment at the fall of Jerusalem. For others it is about finishing the work God has given us to do before being called to account at death. A third possibility - and the sense of the passage supports this best - is that Jesus was urging his disciples to serve him with his second coming always in view. "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." v40. The trouble with the third alternative is that every Christian today knows that 2000 years have passed and still Jesus has not returned. His warning is only really relevant to the generation alive when he does come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe that the warnings of Jesus in the Scripture under consideration are applicable at ANY time because he continuously assesses us. We are never out of his sight. The passage teaches what Jesus expects of his servants. He wants us to be:

(B) Available.

"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him." v36.

The best servants were ready to spring into action whatever time of day or night their master returned from his engagement. They were available to unlock the door, to light their master into the house, to remove his sandals and wash his feet and to prepare supper if his journey had been a long one. Their lamps were burning bright, the door opened immediately on his knock.

Some people are always available but there others who can never help you out. They are invariably otherwise engaged. Oh yes - they would love to help - but .... . "Don't be afraid to ask again," is their habitual refrain but, of course, after a few disappointments you don't.

What an asset the readily available are - if you are short of a cricketer and need another player to make up the team - if you are in trouble and need help - if the church needs a job done and volunteers are called for. I will never forget that Henry and Jesse Underwood were always available when I needed help to care for my invalid father. We have a lady at our church who can be depended upon to give anyone a lift in her car in an emergency.

The Christian should be waiting with his lamp burning bright for God's knock - for God's invitation to serve. In the New Testament when the summons came to Ananias he went to Saul; Peter went to Cornelius; Philip found the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert and Paul left Tarsus and travelled back with Barnabas to Antioch.

(C) Devoted.

"It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night." v38.

Any servant who is still awake and ready until dawn break must be especially devoted to his master. He or she is going beyond the call of duty. This is indicated by the master's response: "I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at table and will come and wait on them." v37. The master is so touched by his servants devotion that he prepares a meal and waits on them. He could hardly show more appreciation of their steadfast devotion.

It does require great faithfulness to keep your lamp shining bright during long, dark, uneventful periods. Prior to John the Baptist no prophet had been sent to Israel for centuries. There was little joy in the legalistic Judaism practiced by the Pharisees. Yet, old Simeon was righteous and devout -waiting for the consolation of Israel and octogenerian Anna was one of those who looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Lk2v25to40. Both of them were more than amply rewarded for their devotion. Simeon was able to take the baby Jesus into his arms and say: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people ... .

Adoniram Judson, one of the first Western missionaries to Burma, endured many dark days at the beginning of his ministry. During the Anglo-Burmese war he was imprisoned for 20 months - kept half starved and in iron fetters. If it wasn't for the heroism of his first wife he would have perished. With immense courage, beset with raging fevers and nursing a tiny baby her husband had yet to see, she rushed from office to office in a desperate attempt to keep her husband alive and win his freedom. At the end of the war and with the release of Judson both his wife and child died. It was at this point that God blessed the efforts of Adoniram Judson. Britain took control of several provinces of Burma and in one of them, Tenasserim, among the Karen tribe, conversions to Christianity took place at a rapid rate. Between 1834 and 1866 membership of the church doubled every 8 years.

I have my own illustration of how God can sometimes surprise us with a little reward for faithful service in trying circumstance. See exposition on Ruth and Boaz.

(D) Prepared.

"But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into." v39.

Jesus warns us to be on our guard against those who would rob us of our:

    (a) Freedom. There is no doubt at all that a Christian's freedom of speech is under threat in modern Britain. It seems inconceivable that after all the centuries Christianity has shaped our culture this should be the case. Yet in the August issue of Evangelicals Now there are two news items that illustrate how Christians are not only being marginalised but persecuted. Kwabena Peat was suspended from his teaching post after he complained that a staff training day was used to promote homosexual rights and discriminate against those who disagreed with homosexual practise. Duke Amachree, a Homelessness Prevention officer with Wandsworth Council, London, was on July 6th 2009 dismissed for encouraging a homeless woman with an incurable medical condition to look to God for help, after doctors had told her they'd given up hope. His employers told him that it was inappropriate to 'ever talk about God'; he was also told not even to say, 'God bless.'

    It is a good thing that organisations like the Christian Legal Centre and the Christian Institute exist to defend Christians against the spiteful antagonism of illiberal and intolerant atheists who seem to dominate some London Councils.

    (b) Peace. The fiery darts of Satan pose an even greater threat than the most anti-Christian local council. In times of trouble that great enemy of all who love the Saviour will hurl his burning arrows of doubt, mistrust and resentment. How we need then to have at the ready the shield of faith.

    (c) Hope. In John Bunyan's, 'Pilgrim's Progress,' Christian and Hopeful strayed off the way that led to the Celestial City into By-Path meadow where they were apprehended by Giant Despair and locked away in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. The two pilgrims were beaten by the giant with his crab-tree cudgel and were soon in despair.

    Many Christians find themselves in despair - of ever being good enough, of finishing the race set before them, of withstanding temptation and of God's favour. It is a grievous thing to be under the grim giant's cosh.

    (d) Heart's devotion. We are easily lured away from Jesus - by a competing dominant desire. How subtlety the wish to succeed at work, to excel at sport, to please a friend, lover or family member displaces Christ in our affections.

So how can we be prepared for the thief who only comes to steal and kill and destroy. John10v10. Here are three suggestions:

    (a) Take stock. Paul told the Corinthians: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. 2Cor13v5. It is dangerous to be presumptuous, complacent and careless. Peter wrote: Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 2Pet3v17. Paul warned the complacent Corinthians: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 1Cor10v12.

    (b) Arm yourself. Paul advised the Ephesians: Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand. ..... Take ..... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Eph6v13to17.

    I love the passage in Pilgrim's Progress where Christian realises he has a way out of Giant Despair's dungeon. He said to his companion Hopeful, "I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle." That little key even opened the great iron gate of the castle - that lock went desperately hard; yet the key did open it.

    What a lot of wonderful promises there are in the Bible to guard against what would rob us of our peace, hope and heart's devotion. Anne Steele takes one of them, the words of Jesus: "Because I live, ye shall live also." (Jn14v19) and uses it as the basis of a charming hymn:

            When sins and fears prevailing rise
            And fainting hope almost expires,
            Jesus, to Thee I lift mine eyes,
            To Thee I breathe my soul's desires.

            If my immortal Saviour lives,
            Then my immortal life is sure;
            His word a firm foundation gives,
            Here let me build and rest secure.

            Here let my faith unshaken dwell;
            Immovable the promise stands:
            Not all the powers of earth or hell
            Can e'er dissolve the sacred bands.

    (c) Pray. After telling the Ephesians to put on the whole armour of God he urges them to: Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Eph6v18.

    Christians get into all sorts of trouble when they neglect prayer. Satan uses every device at his command to keep us off our knees because there is absolutely nothing that keeps us closer to God and strong in the Lord and in his mighty power than prayer.

(E) Dedicated.

Peter asked, "Lord are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?" v41. In response to this question Jesus made it clear what he expected of all his servants and especially those in charge of others. He made three points:

(1) Help others to be effective servants.

"Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns." v42and43.

No servant can function properly unless properly fed. There are things we can give to other Christians that will help them to function properly:

    (a) Support. It is a great thing to have the support of others when engaged in Christian service. Paul felt the lack of companions at the time he wrote to Timothy from prison: Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. Tim4v9. Paul did have the faithful Luke for support as Adoniram Judson had his loyal and courageous wife.

    I have been grateful on occasions for the support of my church. I can remember organising an open air service for Sunday evening on the Brockley village green. It was not a universally popular initiative but in the end more attended than usually came to the evening service in the chapel. One elderly couple, George and Lal, said they wouldn't have missed it for anything. It brought back of memories of Lal's sister speaking in the open air in Soho over 60 years ago. When several young people left our church I took over the responsibility of preparing the older boys and girls of the Sunday school for the Scripture examination. I really had more than enough to do as a school teacher and Church Secretary. I was greatly encouraged by the fact that our Church Treasurer said, "Well, I'll come along - just to give you some support."

    (b) Advice. The good advice Paul gave to young Timothy must have helped him in his ministry: Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preachng and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

    Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1Tim4v13to16.

    Aquila and Priscilla certainly did Apollos a good turn when they invited him into their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. Acts18v26. (See exposition on Acts18v24to28.)

    I have from time to time given kindly advice to preachers - to speak up or to be more concise. I know that most speakers do not like to be told to 'stick to time.' However, the constraint of finishing the service in an hour does greatly improve the pace of most sermons and increase their effectiveness. (I realise that many of my expositions are long - but they would be seriously abbreviated in a sermon.) I have also given advice to young converts on the unsuitability of non-Christian boyfriends and helped the grieving to come to terms with their loss.

    (c) Appreciation. There is no doubt that a few words of appreciation does help us to succeed in anything we undertake. See anecdote about John Clare. The servants of Jesus sometimes need encouragement. It is very important to tell your pastor whenever his sermons have been a help to you. A lot of time, thought and prayer may have gone into that sermon and if it meets with no response how dispirited it will leave the preacher. One of the reasons it is quite hard to persevere with a website like this is because of a lack of feedback.

    The apostle Paul was a tremendous encourager. I can imagine the personal references in Romans 16 must have cheered the likes of Persis of whom Paul wrote: Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who worked very hard in the Lord. Rom16v12.

    (d) Sympathy. A lady doctor certified that my mother was dead. I had never seen her before and was never to see her again. She came in the night and vanished into the night. It didn't take her long to confirm my mother was dead. There was nothing she could do! But I shall never forget how she sat by my father for several minutes and just held his hand. She gave what she could - and it was not without value!

    I have no time for those who do not visit the bereaved, the chronically ill and dying. I have heard people say, "I didn't go to visit old X - I wanted to remember him at his best." What a selfish attitude. We do feel powerless in the face of great suffering - but so long as we can hold someone's hand and sympathise with his or her weakness we are not entirely helpless. Jesus said to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Could you not keep watch for one hour?" Mk14v37

    Some years ago now, following the departure of our talented pastor to pastures new, several younger people left our church. It was a terrible blow to me - I could see what the consequences were likely to be! During that difficult time just one person came to see me. Liz came. She came because she thought I might be sad - she came to sympathise. It helped!

    (e) Prayer. There is not a Christian alive who does not need the prayers of other believers to be effective as a servant of Christ. Paul asked the Ephesians: Pray for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Eph6v19v20.

(2) Refrain from what would hinder others being effective servants of Jesus.

    (a) Don't throw your weight around. But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants ... ." v45

    Christian leaders who are legalistic, intolerant, critical, intimidating and arrogant do not help others to develop. A teacher knows that his pupils must respect his authority. Children who are disobedient and disruptive will not learn much. But it is possible for a teacher to be too oppressive. Pupils will not blossom in a chill climate of fear. I know of a church that was ruined by two elders who bullied their flock. A cowed church is never going to be a happy and effective fellowship.

    (b) Don't be self-indulgent. Not only did the manager beat the servants under him but he also proceeded to eat and drink and get drunk. A drunken steward is hardly likely to fulfil his responsibilities either to the master or the servants in his care.

    Our usefulness to the church will be very limited if we are intent on pleasing ourselves. We can be self-indulgent over many things - holidays, recreational pursuits, family commitments and work. Christians especially need to be on guard as they get older and wealthier. Numerous believers in the affluent West cut down on their church commitments on reaching retirement to spend more time travelling, at their holiday cottage or with their family. I have to admit that I now spend a lot more time than perhaps I ought reading crime novels.

(3) Be aware of the consequences of how you serve.

Jesus said that the dedicated servant can expect a reward. "I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions." v44 The irresponsible servant on the other hand will be treated with the utmost severity. "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. v46

A man or woman who professes to be a Christian but habitually disobeys Jesus will be numbered among the unbelievers! We all need to remember Jesus' words: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Mt7v21.

(F) Accountable.

Jesus taught in this passage that we are accountable for the lives will lead.

(1) We cannot have knowledge without responsibility. "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows." v47.

We cannot fall back on grace all the time. Jesus emphasises in this whole passage our responsibility as his servants. Grace can never absolve us from the consequences of persistent disobedience to the known will of God. Let me take just one example. Jesus taught that we should be generous to those in need, generous in our judgments and generous with our praise. If, then, we are mean spirited we must expect to be beaten with many blows. See exposition on the generous spirit.

(2) If we have been given much - much will be expected of us. "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." v48.

We need to think about what we have been given: wealth, possessions, knowledge, time, abilities and opportunities. In the parable of the talents the servants who started with most talents were expected to make most. If we have been blessed with great opportunities for Christian service and omit to take them our reward in heaven will be all the poorer.